I had the pleasant fortune yesterday of visiting a friend just returned from Japan studying Japanese Buddhism. Other friends were there, too, and it almost never sucks to be in a group of RS people. We all get to indulge ourselves in tasty converse. Inevitably (with me these days) the conversation turns to religious literacy. K is stronger in Easterns than I am, and A is stronger in Islam than I am, so we have an interesting conversational mix of things. Despite our strengths of interest, one thing that came up in 3 religions and two cultures we discussed was how people just don't pay one damned bit of attention to how they got where they are (religiously) and what that might actually mean in terms of the practice of a living faith or system instead of rigid, retrojected beliefs that have become concretized, external rule structures.
We have some amazing RS resources at Humboldt; we talked about using our local Newman Center for an RS salon. We talked about using Second Life in concert with other Web 2.0 resources to weave a portal to scholarly resources about religious literacy and provide information and a forum for discussion. By the end of the visit, A was thinking about changing his senior project to something on religious literacy. K, as always, was the cool, rational voice asking the questions that keep keels even.
What benefit does becoming religiously literate have for a religion's end user? Does every member of a tradition need to become literate? If so, why? And how?
Pluralism must emerge, at least in the Jungian sense of integration of the shadow, if we are to avoid the consequences of the world tearing itself apart. I'm thinking of pluralism right now as an hospitable sociocultural environment environment that neither endorses nor pedestalizes any tradition. If not tearing the world apart isn't sufficient motivation to get people interested in religious literacy, what is?
What cookie is there to offer people to make them want to become literate? We couldn't find one--not just one, at any rate. To seek literacy is to admit illiteracy. For some, the admission of illiteracy means the catastrophic downfall of their lifeframe. If they admit to illiteracy, they admit that the beliefs upon which their lives are founded are potentially inaccurate; I have seen no indication that most end users of religion are willing to have their lifeframes challenged in such ways. Their world might collapse, and in a culture of comfort junkies, hardly anyone is willing to do that work, much less invoke that kind of personal chaos deliberately in order to create a better world for everyone.
It seems obvious that without religious literacy, proponents of religion will keep doing pretty much as they please, especially to a demonized other, and find a way to cull sanctions form their primary texts to support their actions, no matter how gymnastic a process that culling becomes. But if it was so bloody obvious to everyone, wouldn't things change?
I'm as confused as Calvin (of Calvin & Hobbes, not the John Calvin that the comic character is named after. I'm pretty sure he wasn't confused--after all, he did manage a theocracy in Geneva). I could only find one frame of this strip, but it opens with Hobbes walking up to Calvin's booth, asking how business is. Calvin says it's horrible, which he doesn't understand, because:
Most men worry about their own bellies, and other people's souls, when we all ought to be worried about our own souls, and other people's bellies. -- Rabbi Israel Salanter 1810-1883